On Monday morning the Teton County Board of Commissioners passed an emergency ordinance requiring face coverings in the unincorporated county. The action was in response to Eastern Idaho Public Health’s decision last Thursday to lift Teton County’s public health order limiting mass gatherings and requiring masks.
The EIPH Board of Health did so because Teton County’s active COVID case count had dropped below the 10 per 10,000 people threshold, but since Thursday that number has again risen to the “moderate risk” category; on Monday evening EIPH reported that Teton County had 15 active cases, which brought its active case ratio up to 12.4 per 10,000 people. Due to an increase of cases in multiple counties over the weekend, the Board of Health held a special meeting on Monday evening and voted unanimously to reinstate the legal mandate in Teton County, as well as putting the same mandate in place in Fremont and Jefferson County.
EIPH also adjusted its large event restrictions to limit attendees based on venue size rather than a rigid attendee cap. The order states that a venue must have 28 square feet of space per person, enough so each person can maintain a three-foot radius to allow for physical distancing.
Before EIPH reinstated its public health order, it was set to expire at 5 p.m. on Aug. 10, so the county commissioners decided to act during their meeting.
“I think we’re going to confuse and frustrate people if we don’t have a clear and consistent message about mask-wearing and emphasize that it’s an important measure that can reduce the spread,” said Greg Adams, the county emergency management coordinator, at the Monday morning meeting.
The new ordinance does not have any mass gathering restrictions and is similar in language to the Driggs order and Victor ordinance regarding face coverings. Unlike the EIPH public health order, Teton County’s ordinance only applies to the unincorporated county.
“It’s a more piecemeal approach but it’s better than nothing,” commission chair Cindy Riegel said about the ordinance.
Commissioner Bob Heneage noted that since Thursday, the commissioners have received 63 emails about the EIPH decision, with 59 writers requesting a mask mandate, one asking for “strong guidance” from the county, and three asking for no mandate.
Heneage lamented being put in this position by the governor’s office and EIPH.
“I have a great deal of concern about the ever-changing messaging coming from whomever the authority of the month may be,” he said. “It kicked from the governor to the health district to the counties and cities...We’re trying to manage what is basically a national emergency at the local level, which is patently absurd.”
Commissioner Harley Wilcox gave minimal input during the discussion, but did say he felt that EIPH will “continue to work to make the system better,” and that by passing its own ordinance, Teton County was creating more confusion rather than supporting the public health department. He voted against the ordinance.
Heneage gave one final thought on the idea held by some that requiring face coverings is “taking away people’s freedom.” He listed past examples of changing norms like seatbelt laws and stricter enforcement of drunk driving, and mentioned food rationing during World War II.
“We’re not taking away your rights away, we’re asking people to contribute to the common good for a temporary period of time until the emergency has passed and then we can go back to life as normal,” Heneage said.
The emergency ordinance will remain in place until it is repealed by the BOCC. EIPH public health orders are reviewed two weeks after issuance.